Paula Skolnick-Childress and Hampton Childress

Usually couples don’t purchase a minivan after their kids have already left home. But for Paula Skolnick-Childress and husband Hampton Childress, it was the only logical choice. Both play in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and between them, they have two cellos and two double basses. “It would be fun to have a sexy little sports car, but we can’t do that,” says Paula.

A cellist who began playing at age 10, Paula joined the BSO’s cello section in 1970 and married a fellow cellist. When Hampton joined the orchestra 12 years later, he was married to someone outside the orchestra. For almost a decade, the only connection they had was onstage, trading melody and harmony with nearly 100 other musicians. “I think I only had two conversations with him in eight years or so, and both were ÔHi, how are you?’” recalls Paula. “The basses were behind me so I couldn’t even see him play.”

It wasn’t until the BSO went on strike in 1989 that they had their first real conversation. After calling all her friends to switch assigned picket times and coming up short, she called Hampton. In 1990, after both were divorced from their former spouses, their relationship grew beyond the friendship and they married a year later. They each brought a teenaged son to the marriage, and today have three grandsons between them.

Their work suits them well as a couple. “If we were running our own business, I think there could be real tension,” admits Hampton. “We are very different temperaments and work very differently. Performing music … oftentimes requires physical, mental and emotional capabilities at the edge of human abilities. I think we as musicians tend to learn to work in a way when we practice that is quick and efficient for us.”

“I love the fact that Hampton loves music and understands what it is to play,” says Paula, adding that they have very little contact while working. Adds Hampton: “The orchestra is such a huge animal that I am not that aware of what Paula is doing and I am sure she’s not aware of what I am doing.” Practicing at home generally follows the same course, since they have an elaborate system for deciding who gets to use the practice room in their Towson home.

“Whoever gets there first gets it,” says Paula.

Hep and Anne Preston
Hair designers for John Waters’ films; Owners, Geometrics Hair Studio, Canton

When Hep Preston first saw his future wife, Anne, at a hair show in 1985, he had no idea that they’d met years earlier while growing up in East Baltimore. It would take nearly 16 years as business partners, 10 as a married couple, three feature films together and a baker’s dozen of stray dogs before he figured it out. Three years ago, Anne’s sister gave her a scrapbook of childhood photos as a birthday present. Hep spotted his sister in a photo and realized that he and Anne had met as children when Hep lived in Fells Point and Anne lived in Highlandtown. “We were destined to be together,” says Hep. “Somehow we found each other again.”

If it sounds like something out of a movie, it is. In addition to co-owning Geometrics, a funky hair salon/thrift store in Canton that opened in 1989, Anne and Hep are part of John Waters’ local film crew. Hep has served as key hair designer for every Waters’ film since “Cry Baby” in 1990 and is also the director’s personal hairdresser. Anne joined Hep’s crew of stylists for “Pecker” in 1998. For the recent “A Dirty Shame,” Hep’s 22-year-old daughter Sarah, who was raised by Hep and Anne, pitched in.

Working together on a movie is a much different scenario than running the salon, since Anne is typically one of three full-time hair designers that Hep supervises on set. “We talked about it before I started on ÔPecker,’” Anne says. “At the end of filming, people said they were amazed at how well we got along.” Hep’s not surprised. “A lot of times I don’t need to tell her what I want this character to look like because she knows what I’m thinking anyway.” They also go with Waters to scout locations— and hairstyles— anywhere from strip malls to strip clubs.

In the near future, they hope to retire from the salon, concentrating on local film work and caring for the 13 stray dogs that have found their way to the Prestons’ home on a 12-acre property in Glen Rock, Pa. “Being together so much took practice,” admits Hep. “Not a lot of couples could do this, but if you start out honest in the beginning, that’s how it’s going to be all the way through.”

Rob Degenhard and Nini Sarmiento
Owners, Home Anthology

Every marriage requires some adjustments. For Rob Degenhard and Nini Sarmiento, college sweethearts who met in 1986 at Loyola College and married in 1994, most of the adjustments take place in the driver’s seat of their 1992 Ford Club Wagon. With Nini at an even 5 feet and Rob at 6-feet-4, the driver’s seat, mirrors and lumbar support get changed daily depending on who’s behind the wheel while hauling merchandise for their vintage furniture business.

Size differences aside, it was their shared love of the clean lines, light wood and cheaper price tags of 1950s-era furniture that inspired their business. “We just got the bug knowing that you could go out and find wonderful things for cheap,” says Nini. After they married, they’d troll consignment stores and yard sales— even the streets of Homeland and Guilford the night before bulk trash day. Friends and family began asking them to find pieces, which ratcheted up their hobby to a part-time business.

In August 2002, they saw a booth for rent at a Cockeysville antiques mall and put down a deposit. “We were both unhappy with our jobs and decided to give ourselves the opportunity to try something really different,” says Nini, who at the time was a free-lance graphic designer. Four months later, she and Rob, who has had careers in youth ministry, insurance and fund-raising, made another on-the-spot decision to buy a used van for the business. That same month, Rob quit his full-time job and Nini followed suit in 2003.

Some people cautioned against working together, including the attorney who handled the business’ incorporation. “He also handled divorces and he told us to hang onto his card,” says Rob. “I think working together can be a pressure cooker for the relationship. All the issues you have in your household— finances, personalities— we have that twice over.”

Two and a half years later, though, things are cooking right along with a Web site (http://www.homeanthology.com) that draws customers from as far as Texas and California and a new store location, soon to be announced. (Until January, Home Anthology was located in Ellicott City’s Oella Mill.) “We’re working together toward a future and calling the shots,” says Nini. “We don’t have children, so this is our baby.” Rob concurs: “We’ve been very mindful of trying to make sure that both our relationship and our business grow in a positive way.”

And to make sure the electric seat adjustment in the van never wears out.

John and Janice Hargrave
Owners, Sky Lounge/Tango Tapas, Federal Hill

John Hargrave had always been intrigued by the idea of owning a bar. “I enjoy the conversation, excitement and activity of the social setting,” says Hargrave, a Ruxton native who was living in Manhattan and working as a NASDAQ trader when he met Janice at a bar on the Upper East Side in 1998. She was a recent transplant from Fort Worth, Texas, working as a flight attendant for American Airlines.

During their courtship, John introduced Janice to many of his favorite spots in New York, particularly the tapas bars that took a favorite food he discovered in Spain to a more contemporary level. “I knew the concept of an upscale New York or Miami tapas-type atmosphere would work in Baltimore, particularly Federal Hill,” he says. Engaged and with plans under way to open a bar in Baltimore, they left New York shortly after 9/11 and were married in November 2001.

While scouting locations, John found the perfect Federal Hill spot— the former home of Alley Oops, an old favorite of his. They opened Sky Lounge/Tango Tapas in September 2002. A friend recommended the name in homage to the building’s skylights, but it works for Janice’s other career. She has continued flying with American Airlines, handling two or so flights per week out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport. “When I leave the airport, I’ll say that I’m going to go work at the other Sky,” she says with a laugh. As for the tango aspect, they know it takes two, but so far, they’re too busy for lessons.

Though the original idea for the business was John’s, it’s a full partnership. “She’s much better with the numbers and takes care of the accounting and payroll and I deal with the management aspect,” says John. They both serve as managers, literally splitting duties during business hours, with John taking the dance floor level and Janice overseeing the downstairs. Once, the DJ didn’t show and John had to step in. “I couldn’t even tell a difference, in fact, I didn’t even know it until later,” she says of her husband’s apparently successful stint behind the turntable. He laughs when recalling that someone came up afterward and asked if he had a CD for sale.

The unforeseen on a busy night sometimes can cause some tense moments, but they pass quickly.“I couldn’t have opened this business with someone else,” John says. “We get along so well together and it actually runs very smoothly. When she’s not there, it’s a mess— let’s just put it that way.”

Valina Dawson, Ph.D.
professor of neurology, neuroscience and physiology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Ted Dawson, M.D., Ph.D.
Leonard and Madlyn Abramson professor in neurodegenerative disease, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Valina Dawson is one of the world’s leading scientists in the field of neuron cell death— and a hard-core romantic. She met her husband and fellow scientist Ted Dawson in 1985 at the University of Utah, when both were in the pharmacology and toxicology program. “I was required to meet all the students working with a particular faculty member,” says Valina. “Ted and I made plans to meet for lunch, then dinner and it’s been one long date for the past 20 years.” Ten months after the date began, they married.

“Even when we were doing post-docs at different places, we had common projects and brought labs together that probably wouldn’t have collaborated together in a million years,” says Ted. In 1990, when Ted joined Johns Hopkins, Valina was doing a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health. “We were getting worried that we wouldn’t be able to find positions together, and then [in 1993] Hopkins came up with a really fabulous offer for both of us,” explains Valina. Today they co-direct the Neuroregeneration and Repair Program in Hopkins’ Institute for Cell Engineering, a lab they co-founded.

Their first major co-authored paper in 1991 broke open the cell death field in the nervous system. “When you’re working together in a lab and you’re one of the first people on the planet to make a new discovery, to be able to share it with your spouse is really quite phenomenal,” says Ted. Explains Valina, “Early on, we worked to understand the program for the cell death process so we could target drugs to slow down and delay that death, which might slow down or delay the progression of Parkinson’s disease or stroke.” Recent studies focus on identifying the programs of the neurons’ unique survival strategies.

“We are more than the sum of the parts,” says Ted of their different, yet complementary, training. Adds Valina: “Together we can go from genes to cells to mice to men.” Their different scientific and personal approaches allow them to explore multiple scientific options. But early on in their marriage, Ted learned not to explore multiple navigation options when Valina is driving. “She’s a former ambulance medic, so even when I’m driving I just stay quiet and let her tell me where to go.” Valina’s one rule is that Ted can’t wake her up in the middle of the night if he has a good idea.

“I still do,” he says. “I can’t help myself.”

Joyce Hesselberth and Dave Plunkert
Founding partners, Spur Design, Hampden

When Joyce Hesselberth and Dave Plunkert married in 1994, they made a conscious decision not to work together. “We thought from an independent standpoint, it would be better for the relationship if we each worked separately,” says Dave. They met in 1989 while they were designers at the same graphic design firm, and by the time they began dating in 1991 they were working for different studios. By 1993, both were free-lancing. With the paperwork from their separate businesses overflowing, they decided to combine efforts after they married and in 1995 created Spur Design, a graphic design and illustration firm.

“We share a vision,” says Dave. “We looked at [Spur] as an entity that would allow us to do the projects we want to do.” Today, Spur’s four-person firm has such local clients as the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, Discovery Channel and Theatre Project. Their award-winning illustrations have appeared in a long list of publications: Time, Rolling Stone, GQ and Forbes, among many others. And for the past two years, Spur has won Best in Show at the Baltimore Advertising Association’s ADDY Awards, a first in the 30-year history of Baltimore’s award program.

Like many businesses, a lot of their success is due to mergers and acquisitions, albeit unconventional ones. “We merged our home and work life in a lot of ways,” says Dave of their practice of bringing daughter Madison, 6, to work each day. After Joyce’s maternity leave ends, newborn twins Emma and Jake, born last October, also will be regulars.“We never started Spur with the idea that it would be a place where we’d have our kids, but that’s been the natural progression,” he adds. In fact, family not business, was the driving force in 1998 behind buying a 10,000-square-foot industrial building in Hampden and renovating it as a kid-centric studio in which the kids can ride tricycles, chat with artists in the adjoining gallery and play on the computers. Now that Madison is enrolled in school, they joke about their employees having “child withdrawal.”

“I’m not sure how people with 9-to-5 jobs actually do it,” says Joyce. “We can set our own hours and the great thing is that we can spend more time with our kids.” They consciously structure a little alone time, each driving in separately on the commute from their Baltimore County home, and they have a thick cinderblock wall between their work spaces.

“You have to have some boundaries,” Dave says. “When we first met, we worked 10 feet from each other. Now it’s 15 feet.”

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